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Is Democracy Served when Population Triples in 100 Years, but Number of Representatives Remains the Same?


Friday, November 07, 2014
(photo: WIkipedia)

If Americans dislike Congress now, what will they think if its size increased by 245 lawmakers?

Some political reformers argue that, no matter how frustrating the U.S. House might be now, it needs to expand in size. After all, the last time the number of representatives—currently at 435—changed was 1911. That was when the nation’s population was 93.9 million. Now, it’s up to 316.1 million, an increase of more than 200% over 100 years.

At 435 members, the House has the daunting task of representing an average of 700,000 per district. When the country was founded, the ratio was closer to 30,000 to 1.

During the first 100 years or so of the republic, Congress enlarged the House about every 10 years. “Increasing the size of the House was seen as necessary to offset the growth in the nation’s population,” Brian Frederick wrote at The Conversation. “However, after the last increase that occurred in 1911, members concluded that the House could no longer operate efficiently if its size continued on an upward trajectory.”

Frederick and others argue it is critical to add House members to provide better representation to Americans. He proposes that the right size for the chamber is 680 seats. Frederick arrived at that figure when he realized that most national legislatures are roughly the size of the cube root of the nation’s population. For the United States, that would be about 680. That would bring the average district size down to a more manageable 460,000.

There’s also a large variance between district sizes. The largest is Montana’s at-large district with about 1 million residents. The smallest is the Rhode Island 1st district, with about 528,000 residents.

-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley

To Learn More:

Yes, We Really Do Want More Politicians in the House of Representatives (by Brian Frederick, The Conversation)

Do We Need a Bigger House of Representatives? (by Doug Mataconis, Outside the Beltway)

Expand the House? (by Peter Baker, New York Times)

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